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Shopping in PNG

Shopping in PNG is always an adventure. I try to encourage the other expats to go shopping for themselves so they can understand the difficulties that the buyers face. When I first arrived, I suspected that our buyers were taking breaks when shopping because it took them so long.

Shopping in PNG is always an adventure. I try to encourage the other expats to go shopping for themselves so they can understand the difficulties that the buyers face. When I first arrived, I suspected that our buyers were taking breaks when shopping because it took them so long. Then I saw how the shops worked - if you want a discount you need to find a good sales person who will give you a formal written quotation for each item. Then, if you accept his price you need to get him to produce a picking list, then you need to negotiate the check out staff who require a code for every item. It's depressing.

So we had a visit from one of the Canadian operations team and I was advised to tidy up the table I share with my 2 assistants in the very small logistics office. "Letter trays" were the recommended solution. So the next day I go letter tray shopping.

Shop 1 actually has a wide range of good quality letter trays. Unfortunately, it has none of the riser rods needed to support them. Puzzled, I asked the manager "Have I got this right - you sell the trays but not the riser rods?". "Yeah, it does seem a bit crazy" he explains, "but our suppliers can't get them to us".

Shops in PNG tend not to have a regular stock of anything, they seem to just sell what ever they managed to get hold of. If you see something you need, best to buy it immediately as next week it could be gone. Shop 2 also had a range of letter trays and riser rods. "How much are these?" I asked. Puzzled looks all round. Nobody could tell me the price, "Could you come back tommorrow?" Shop 3 had some, but most were broken, very flimsy and clearly were not sufficiently Chris-proof to survive our cramped and hectic office. "Is there anywhere else?" I asked David, our driver/carpenter/artist/guide. David knows Lae and its' residents pretty well. A few months ago his wallet was stolen and within a week it was handed back to him - money still inside. Arriving at the last shop I was relieved to see letter trays with riser rods. I got back to the office to find there was only half the number of riser rods needed to support the trays.

So it took 3 hours, but at least I can see the wood on the table. Shopping in PNG is stressful.

Chris Houston | The wood on the desk.

Photo: Chris Houston | The wood on the desk.